Today is Janmashtami. I know ‘m a teensy bit late in the day for this post. Baba (my father) called me last night, when it was Janmashtami-morning in India and wished me. He always does. Ma (mom) says per our Bengali “tithi” (calendar/date), I was born on this day, on Janmashtami. Somehow my husbandman cannot get himself to settle down with it. “What? So you were born on the same day Lord Krishna was? Really?” He’d say with a grin. Though he doesn’t particularly believe in astrology, he insists that people born around the same time do share a few commonalities. And from what he’s come to learn about Lord Krishna and me, he hasn’t found one equivalence yet! Not even a fraction of anything! There are at least a few hundred obvious “spot the difference” though… 😉 Ah, well…these’d probably make good stories for another post!
I had been on the run last evening. 5 days shy of September and I had still not finished buying all the back to school supplies for J. New set of lunch-box, lunch bag, water bottle, keep-warm container, snack boxes, matching cutlery and backpack were on the top of my list. Since J is away with Ma Baba for a vacation, and because she was specific on the kind of bag she wanted, I picked 4 backpacks from 2 stores and showed her on Skype. She settled on one blue-lavender backpack with a glittery dog and fancy frill (yes, she’s a self-proclaimed dog-lover!). I was happy…the bag was sturdy, looked durable and fitted my budget well. Then I drove straight to Villeroy & Boch, followed by a trip to Pottery Barn Kids. I picked up the best quality school lunch supplies at the greatest deals! Was late, by the time I got home. Was hungry and tired! I ate, spoke to Ma-Baba to check upon them and the kids, and quickly crashed out.
This morning I realized it was Janmashtami already and that I haven’t had one sweet at home for our offering in Puja (Hindu worship). And the quickest rescue was probably going to be the “Coconut-Milkmaid Laddus” Baba had taught me for one of my school events.
It was towards the end of 2nd Millenium, and I was in high school. Once a week, we had an hour long class called “Socially Useful Productive Work or SUPW”, where we’d learn about and participate in a variety of vocational education activities. One time, there was this 2-month long SUPW event celebrating “quick and easy, no-cook no-bake dessert recipes”. The essence was to have students know and love cooking. To help us realize that it doesn’t always take much to make something great. And to emphasize that anybody can make a little something good to eat! As a result, our class was divided into a few equal groups and each set of students were asked to come up with an idea for the food item. Each group was going to work on a recipe each week and have the class and teachers sample some. The teachers would maintain a scoreboard for the taste, texture and overall quality and presentation of the food they were fed by the groups (and you have no idea what all innovations our class came up with! There were a couple groups that made things we never heard, saw or knew…and would never volunteer to taste again. Seriously!!)
Mine was a group of 7 — 2 girls and 5 lazy boys. During our discussion rounds, all that these boys would do is discuss cricket, quiz each other or beat the desks and benches like drums! Both we girls, didn’t expect much out of them, and knew if there was somebody that had to do anything, it would be us. There was no way we could’ve given up, because the points we earn would have a bearing on our SUPW annual scores. I went home and asked Ma. She made elaborate sweet dishes and baked. However, she couldn’t think of anything easy enough for us to do at school. And though Baba doesn’t cook (he never broke his record of cooking 2-3 times a year!), but the foodie that he is, he’s always brimming with ideas. He suggested we do the quick milkmaid-coconut laddu’s! And apparently all we’d require was 2 ingredients — sweetened condensed milk (Milkmaid was the only brand we always got then) and dry coconut powder (extra fine).
In the morning, on the day of the event, I carried 2 cans of sweetened condensed milk, a packet of the dry coconut powder to school. One of my team members got a mixing bowl, and another a large serving plate. Since our school did not have a kitchen in those days, we could not find or settle for a better place than our Chemistry laboratory. So we all camped out in the lab, to set up our “live food counters!”, and use the experiment stations as a “food booth”! No, the lab didn’t smell of hydrogen sulphide that day! None of the classes had a scheduled experiment in chemistry that day. So it was cleaned, sanitized, ventilated and neat. Excitedly, our group took position, and poured all ingredients messily together on a large bowl. We had the work-shy boys finally get their hands sticky and mix the ingredients together. We 2 girls then delicately made the round little ball-shaped laddu’s and rolled them on some dry coconut powder for a fun-coating. We left the laddu’s for 2 hours in the school’s spare refrigerator, and went back in our classes. Later, at recess, we got to serve our chilled and delicious laddu’s to all in our class and teachers and guess what? Our group won! Given those immature young hands making them, the sweets came out very crowd pleasing. They were surprisingly easy to make, didn’t require much skill or any elaborate method. And yet the soft, moist and impressive laddu’s made it a very sweet day for our team. I was excited — Baba’s recipe got so many compliments and that everyone loved it. And loved it beyond words! These made a great dessert. And there is no way you can ever go wrong with this recipe, Baba had assured!
So I made the same laddu’s today that he once taught me. Just that I adorned his recipe with some shredded rose petals, pistachio bits and cardamom. I thought it was a beautiful expression of my love for Baba! I made them today for my little Janmashtami puja. Mr. Man loved them too! One good thing about the occasion and me, he said, was that I made amazing sweet to mark the day! And that’s probably a homogeneity, somewhere…and a happy one, I thought!
Hope you all had a happy and blessed Janmashtami! Have a great rest of the week, and do make these flavorful and delicious sweet balls and let me know how you liked them…I look forward to read from you…
Makes about 16 to 18 medium Laddus
- 2 cups (16 oz or 450 grams) finely powdered desiccated Coconut (Gari ka burada; sookhe nariyal ka choora)– I used a packet of extra fine powder I found at the store
- 20 to 25 pods of green cardamom (choti elaichi) — shelled and crushed in a mortar and pestle
- 1 cup loosely packed dried rose petals
- 1/2 cup pistachios — crushed in a mortar and pestle
- 2 tbsp Rose water — *Optional
- About 1 cup sweetened condensed milk
- In a mixing bowl, add the finely powdered dry/desiccated coconut, crushed cardamoms and crushed pistachios.
- Taking a handful of the dried rose petals at a time, rub them between your palms to crush them. Add them to the mixing bowl. If the rose petals aren’t as crisp, toast them on a dry frying pan for just a minute or two, let cool and then crush them for use.
- With clean hands, mix the dry ingredients, so the flavors are evenly distributed.
- Add rose water and pour the sweetened condensed milk to the mixing bowl.
- Using hands, amalgamate them all together to form the sweet mixture. When a handful of the mixture is pressed , they should hold the form, and not fall apart. (If the mixture is too dry, add a little sweetened condensed milk. And if the mixture is too sticky and gets gooey, add some more dry coconut, pistachios and the shredded dry rose petals.)
- When the mixture is ready, grease your palm with ghee or olive oil. Take a small portion of laddu mixture, and shape them gently between your palms, to make balls or laddu’s. [**You could also roll each laddu over some desiccated and powdered coconut, for a velvety coating.]
- Adorn the sweet balls with a small rose petals and pistachio slivers.
- Transfer the sweets on a plate and cover with food grade plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.
- The sweets are best served chilled. Make them on any festival, event or when you need to ready some quick yummy dessert for your friend’s unexpected visit at your’s for dinner! Have sweet-filled days…